As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up First, Essendon.
The Bombers came into the season with the hopes of breaking an 18 year long finals winning drought, yet the start of their season has left their fans wondering where it’s all gone wrong.
In a year full of negatives for the Bombers, the ability of their young forward brigade in the face of an injury crisis has been admirable.
Peter Wright is still proving to be a huge bargain in the red and black, kicking 25 goals to date and maintaining his ability to turn a match on its head, while fellow tall forward Nic Martin is putting together a great first season at AFL level.
The absence of prolific forwards Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Jake Stringer for extended periods this season could have spelt even more issues for the Bombers, but the ability of this forward line has saved the Bombers on multiple occasions and given fans a future to look forward to.
Earlier this year, coach Ben Rutten was forced to scale his gameplan down after a disastrous beginning. The Bombers adopted a safe, conservative and disposal heavy game that did not yield the results Rutten had hoped from his side.
While in previous years the Bombers were an aggressive, attacking side that loved to run and carry the ball, the change in style in 2022 did not suit the team they had created and left players such as Nick Hind, an attacking threat of half-back, to sit on the sidelines for extended periods this season.
Players like Hind were a big catalyst behind the Bombers finals push last season and the restriction of this free flowing movement has not helped the Bombers cause for another finals berth.
While the Bombers have struggled defensively to begin the year, Mason Redman is having a career-best season.
Redman is averaging career highs in disposals, marks and meters gained this season, along with being arguably the most consistent defender in their backline.
He leads the team in total rebound 50’s, where the Bombers still rank in the top five of all teams for the season.
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Much has been made of the Bombers lack of veteran leadership so far in 2022, with a lot of the blame being directed towards former All-Australian Dylan Shiel.
Shiel has been one of many Bombers’ midfielders accused of producing a lack of effort on the defensive end that has seen the Bombers concede the equal third most points of any side.
Shiel was almost dropped completely from the Essendon side before a late change made him the medical sub, with Shiel being given an honest review of what he is lacking in his game.
Shiel’s partners in the midfield of Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett have also been critiqued for their defensive efforts this season. While they still remain heavy disposal getters, their tackling and pressure numbers are all down on their career averages.
This Bombers midfield was so heavily touted in the preseason that they must lift their intensity in the second half of the season to assist their relatively undersized backline and drag themselves out of their defensive slump.
Best and Fairest contenders:
The most obvious choice for the best and fairest for the Bombers would be their elite ball magnet, Darcy Parish.
Parish leads the league in disposals per game, amassing an average of a whopping 35 disposals. While his defending has been questioned, his ability to find the footy in his hands has seen him continue to grow and is the likely front runner for the Crichton Medal.
Other contenders include developing ruck Sam Draper, the much improved Mason Redman and rookie sensation Nic Martin, who has started his career in astonishing fashion after being signed by the Bombers as an SSP selection.
Expectations for the second half of 2022:
After the bye the Bombers have a difficult draw, with four games against the Blues, Saints, Swans and the Lions split up by a trip to the west to face the lowly Eagles.
The Bombers must claim a scalp or two of those four sides and dismantle the Eagles to give themselves a chance for finals. If they can’t do that, then the curtains will certainly be drawn on a disappointing year.
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